Female participation in political formation reduces corruption and increases transparency

 Media Release:  Celebrating Women’s Day, 9 August 2014


A United Nation Millennium Project report in 2005 justifies increasing the representation of women in political office, arguing that women in office are more likely to advocate for legislation and policy that will improve gender equality and benefit children and families.  There is academic evidence to suggest that female participation in political formation reduces corruption and increases the transparency of decision-making bodies.

What’s more, international studies have indicated that the introduction of legislation or political party rules that specify the use of quotas for female candidates is an effective means by which to increase women’s political representation and promote gender equality, say Jare Struwig, Steven Gordon, and Benjamin Roberts,  who investigated public attitudes on women in politics using a detailed set of questions on democratic attitudes that was fielded during the 2010 and the 2013 round of the South African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS).

SASAS is a nationally representative survey conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) since 2003. The sample of the survey in each round since 2003 has, on average, yielded about three thousand respondents. Both the 2010 and the 2013 surveys are representative of the nation’s adult population (16 and older) living in private households in all nine provinces of South Africa.

The researchers found that since the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, South Africa has made impressive gains in relation to women in political life and is one of only a few nations to have surpassed the target of 30% female parliament.

“Given the prominence attached to female participation and representation in politics in South Africa, it is important to explore public perceptions on this increase in women’s political representation”, they say.


A set of nine statements relating to the role of women in the political system were read out to respondents, who were asked to rate their level of agreement or disagreement on a five-point scale ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”.

Figure 1: Politics and gender role attitudes, 2012 2013 (row percentages)

It is apparent that the South African public appears to agree that women should have a greater place in politics in the country. A majority of adult citizens acknowledge the need for greater involvement of women in politics, would vote for female candidates, and favour increased quotas for women in political parties and legislation that binds political parties to having women candidates on their lists.

The researchers found that between 2010 and 2013, there were general improvements in attitudes towards women in politics. A majority of respondents believed that women need to get more involved in politics (78%). This represents a significant increase since 2010 when 69% of the adult public shared this view.

The proportion of adult citizens who believed that men were better politicians than women declined from 43% in 2010 to 33% in 2013. Finally the share who felt that their needs would be better addressed if more women were in politics grew from 40% in 2010 to 46% in 2013. Other attitudes remained more static, particularly whether there should be legislation or quotas that would force parties to have more women on their candidate lists.

There is broad-based aversion by both male and female survey respondents to the notion that it is acceptable for men and women to influence the voting decisions of individuals of the opposite sex. The results, disaggregated by gender, are as follows:

  • More than half (51%) of men agreed men have no right to tell women which party to vote for compared to 69% of women
  • Almost three quarters (73%) of men thought if there were more women in politics my needs would be addressed better compared to 77% of women
  • Just over a third (35%) of men thought that legislation should force parties to have women on their lists compared to 55% of women
  • Just over half (51%) of men thought that quotas for women in political parties should be increased compared to 69% of women
  • Just under half (47%) of men thought women need to get more involved in politics to solve problems that concern them compared to 59% of women
  • Just over two fifths (42%) of men disagreed with the statement that men are generally better politicians than women compared to 58% of women
  • Just over a fifth (22%) of men agreed with the statement that I will never vote for a woman compared to 16% of women

Population group differences on the questions asked above were found and noted to be significant in all cases. Adult members of the Indian communities tended to, on average, express higher support for women in politics than other population groups. Better educated South Africans were found to be more in favour of women in politics and were less inclined to believe that men were better politicians than women and were more willing to vote for a female politician. Those living in rural areas were found to have more conservative attitudes towards women in politics and were more likely to agree that male politicians better protect their interests than female politicians.

The results displayed above are positive and suggest the significant progress that South Africa has made in opening national politics up to women. However it is evident that there exists a significant minority of men who are patriarchal in their views of women in politics. More must be done to combat such patriarchy and promote greater acceptance of female participation in the political arena.

Source: IEC Voter Participation Survey (VPS) 2010, 2013

Note: Due to rounding off, row percentages may not add up to exactly 100 per cent.

Note to news editors and journalists:

For further information or interviews, contact:

1.        Jare Struwig, 012 3022511 // 0827745749

2.       Steven Gordon  0312425612 // 0842499799

3.       Benjamin Roberts031 2425606 // 0845230374

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